Kalle Samooja continued an outstanding week for Finnish golf as his eight under par opening round of 64 gave him a two-shot lead at the Challenge de España.
Compatriot Tapio Pulkkanen claimed a maiden European Challenge Tour title at last week’s lucrative Kazakhstan Open, taking the Road to Oman Number One Ranking in the process, while at the European Tour’s British Masters presented by Sky Sports, Mikko Korhonen and Mikko Ilonen both lie one off the lead.
In good scoring conditions at Izki Golf, Samooja excelled, mixing nine birdies with a single bogey, and credited his friend Pulkkanen’s breakthrough performance in Almaty for inspiring him.
“Tapio’s win definitely inspires me,” said the 29 year old. “It inspires a lot of the Finnish players but especially me – I’ve known Tapio for a long time, I’ve seen him through all his ups and downs, so to watch him do as well as he did last week in such a big tournament, and secure his European Tour card, was really amazing.
“I was really happy for him and I tried to take something from that for this week and today it certainly seems to have helped.
“There have been younger players from Finland starting to come through and the Challenge Tour is great for giving them chances to play and to learn, and there will always be Finnish golfers coming through and moving on.
“An early afternoon start was what I was hoping for – the greens were running a little bit better and it was warmer than this morning, and then I holed a lot of good putts so I’m very pleased with where I am at the moment.
“I’ve had some better weeks than last year but then my bad weeks have been too bad. I’ve missed too many cuts and that’s no good, but the game is good enough and seeing Tapio win makes me know I can win as well.
“I don’t think there’s any extra pressure this week, just because it’s late in the season. Coming here, I felt my game was getting back to its best, and going low today was very nice so I hope I can keep going.
“I’m 80th in the Rankings so I do need to have a good week to continue my season and get into the final few tournaments and then anything can happen, but we’ll go day by day and see where I’m standing on Sunday.”
Trailing Samooja are South African Erik van Rooyen, continuing the fine form that earned him fourth place in Kazakhstan last week, and Norway’s Kristian Krogh Johannessen, who both opened with rounds of 66.
One shot behind them are a clutch of players, including two Northern Irishmen in Michael Hoey and Cormac Sharvin, with José Manuel Lara the leading Spaniard on home soil after a four under par 68.